How to stay in Spain legally as an American and other frequently asked questions to a US expat in Spain

IMG_6692

I have lived in Spain for eleven years – we are now in the double digits. The only things I’ve stuck to for longer have been gymnastics (12 years) and driving a car (17 years). As September comes and goes each year, the nostalgia kicks in as I remember lugging two overstuffed suitcases from Chicago to Madrid to Granada to Triana. What a long, strange, tapa-filled journey it’s been.

As I approached my ten year Spaniversary, I had planned to write a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the things that make me scratch my head about Spain, weaving in the acclamation process that took a good, darn year. But, parenthood and a busy work schedule meant that that post is still in drafts (I’ll get there by my 20th Spaniversary, promise).

Despite slagging blog and social media activity, I somehow still have page views, followers of my ho-hum #momlife and emails from readers and people who find me organically through Google. Don’t let the out of office message fool you – I love reading them and I appreciate them.

Contemplating a hike in Cazalla de la Sierra. Photo credit: Monica Wolyneic.

I always think, “I can should turn this question into a blog post.” But rather than eleven separate posts, I did a non-scientific study of what you guys emailed and Facebook messaged me about to celebrate 11 years of Spanish red tape and all that comes with it, and I’ve honed down my long-winded emails so that you’re not overwhelmed with word count or information.

Have more questions? Throw ’em in the comments!

How can I legally stay in Spain as an American?

Apart from emails about my favorite places to eat in Seville, I get several emails each week about how to work in Spain and how to legally stay in Spain. Many of you are language assistants or veterans of study abroad in Spain.

I get it. Spain got under my skin, too.

When I was considering making Spain a long-term thing, I looked into just about everything.

Guess what y’all: you have it way easier than I did in 2010.

playa de las catedrales galicia beach

I knew about the loopholes for getting an Irish passport (my dad was not listed on the Foreign Birth Registry, so that was out). There was a difficult-to-attain freelancer visa that I would have had to hustle to get – and I was still on blogger.com. I could get married, but that seemed like an awkward conversation to a Spanish boyfriend who proudly proclaimed he’d never get married (about that…).

I found out that I essentially had three options, apart from the whole ring thing: I could try to find a contract and let my card lapse to modify my status from irregular to a one-year work and residency permit, known as arraigo social; I could start working for a company under the table and rat them out under arraigo laboral, or I could continue on a student visa, obtained through a Master’s program I’d been admitted to, and start earning years towards residency as a civil partner. Modificación and cuenta propia were not buzzwords, nor were they paths to residency in Spain at that time.

So, I set out to try and find a job contract. I spend hours crafting cover letters, hand writing addresses of schools and language academies and licking stamps. Every 10 or 12, I’d reward myself with Arrested Development. I waited for the job offers to roll in but… they did not. In Spain, working legally is a bit of a catch-22: you need a work permit to get a job, and you need a job to get a work permit.

Very Spainful to spend a summer stressing out over staying legal, making money and not having to crawl back to America, tail between your legs.

bedroom almohalla 51 sleep

Dreaming of being legal in Spain

In all fairness, I was up against a lot: the arraigo social was a long-shot because teaching contracts tend to be only for nine-ten months. I’d also been out of the Schengen Zone for longer than the allotted time (120 days in three years) and had passport stamps to prove it. I couldn’t denunciar the Spanish government for legally employing me, either. Feeling overwhelmed and in desperate need of 20 minutes in an air-conditioned office, I headed to the U.S. Consulate in Seville (which, by the way, does not do residency or visa consultations for Americans in Spain), and the then-consular agent told me to renew my student visa como fuera.

Thankfully, I’d applied to do a Master’s in Spanish and had an acceptance letter and enrollment certificate. I deferred my enrollment for financial hardship but it had bought me a bit of time to not let my residency card lapse. I’d discover later that you can apply for a TIE card renewal up to 90 days after its expiration, but I was in survival mode (and I seriously doubt that Exteriores even had a website at that time).

paperwork

If my house ever catches fire, my mountains of extrajería paperwork means that it will burn fast.

An overnight bus trip later, I stood in line at the Foreigner’s Office in Madrid, only to be told I’d need an appointment. I plead my case, blaming it on the university taking its sweet time to send my documents and the lack of available appointments, and they told me to come back that following Friday. Back to Seville on the six hour overnight bus I went, returning three days later and having registered my padrón certificate with my brother-in-law.

When it was my turn at the eleventh hour, literally at 4pm the day before my residency card expired, I lied through my teeth and said I was going to begin a master’s program. I remember her making some snide remark about sevillanos. As soon as I had the stamp on my EX-00, I long-distance dialed my mom in the US and told her she could transfer all the money, used as proof of financial solvency for my renewal, back out of my bank account.

As all of this was happening, I attended an American Women’s Club tapas welcome party for new members, as I was considering joining anyway. The woman I sat next to casually mentioned something called pareja de hecho. Doing this would make me the de facto executor of the Novio’s will, and would make him my de-facto owner and keeper. I wasn’t cool with that explanation from the funcionario, but I rolled with it because it gave me residency permission, and I could work legally for 20 hours on my student visa.

walking tours in Spain

Spanish bureaucracy is no cake walk

And so began the wild goose paperwork chase around Andalucía (including a brief pit stop in Fuengirola, Málaga).

You know the rest – a change in the stable partner laws while our paperwork was processing allowed me to work legally and build years towards permanent residency. But apart from that, it changed my mindset from taking Spain and my life here on a year-by-year basis, and it was a clear sign from the Novio that we were in this for more than just the language goof ups and someone to have a cheeky midday beer with.

So what is pareja de hecho?

Cat+EnriqueEngagement065

Pareja de hecho meant no long distance relationship for the Novio and me.

The closest equivalent to pareja de hecho in the US would be a civil union; in fact, people seeking fiancé visas to the United States usually have undergone the PdH process. Simply put, you have nearly all of the benefits of being married, but without the financial implications (in Spain, anyhow) or the ring.

Pareja de hecho allows the non-EU partner to work and reside legally in Spain, have access to state healthcare and move about the EU without a passport. It’s assumed that your partner will not be your “keeper” but proving financial solvency is an element when you later apply for your residency card, and your finances will stay separate unless you choose otherwise.

Pareja de hecho is also called pareja estable or uniones de hecho.

I want to do pareja de hecho. How can I apply for pareja de hecho / pareja estable?

Want to legalize your love? Pareja de hecho is one way to stay in Spain legally as a non-EU citizen.

But ojo: paperwork and eligibility for pareja de hecho differs from one autonomous community to another. Some, like Andalucía or Navarra, will allow the non-EU partner to be on a student visa or even apply with just a passport, whereas Castilla y León will not. Galicia wins the living-in-sin game, as interested parties must have lived together on a registered padrón municipal for two years or more. Both sets of islands will only let Spanish citizens, and not other Europeans, apply.

a-veces-la-locura-spanish-words

Sometimes, crazy is the only way to survive (in Spain)

To qualify, both members of the party generally have to be 18 or older, not related and able to enter into a legal partnership on your own free will. From there, requirements vary by the community – and sometimes even the province – in which you’re applying. Your local government will have resources about documentation and application process. And don’t forget that once you have your certificate in hand, you’ll still have to apply for your shiny new residency card (tarjeta comunitaria)!

In hindsight, pareja de hecho was probably the easiest bureaucratic matter I’ve had to deal with in Spain – I’m serious. And if you don’t believe me, I co-wrote an eBook about it (use LEGALLOVE5 for a 5€ discount in COMO’s online shop!)!

All’s fair in love and bureaucracy, right?

How did you get into teaching abroad? Do I need to have a TEFL or CELTA to teach in Spain?

I proudly marched off the plane in July 2005 after a summer abroad and announced I’d be moving back to Europe after graduation. My parents even encouraged me to do a year or two abroad.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Senior year, after the obligatory flippy cup game and textbook buying, I visited the Office of Study Abroad on my campus to ask how to move abroad after graduation; one of the peer mentors told me about the Spanish government’s North American Language and Culture Assistant program, which would allow me to teach 12 hours a week in a public school in exchange for 631,06€ a month, private healthcare and a student visa. I was offered a position in Andalucía two weeks before graduation.

IMG_8308

I needed a TEFL certificate to teach at an English academy

The auxiliar program was a positive experience for me, and I found that I was actually pretty good at teaching phrasal verbs and producing gap fills. My coordinator gave me free reign in the classroom, so at the end of my three years, I felt ready to make teaching my career, even going as far as applying for a Master’s in Secondary and Bilingual Education.

Remember all of those hand-written envelopes? I got a few bites, but the work papers was always the snag. When my pareja de hecho lawyer called to tell me I could get a Spanish social security number, I marched right over to the social security office and later that week, caught that damn overnight bus to pick up my residency card. I had a standing job offer and started work as Seño Miss Cat the following week.

Great methodology, fun songs and likeable characters.

When I left the private school – I was overworked and underpaid, and I didn’t have enough time for blogging and freelancing – I jumped into the English academy world. Having heard horror stories about payment and contract issues, I was wary but needed a way to work while completing a master’s program, so I figured the part-time schedule and academic year to academic year commitment was doable. I was offered the Director of Studies position midway through the year and stayed on until our move to Madrid.

When I get asked whether or not a TEFL or CELTA is necessary, I always give the same advice: if you want to work for a reputable academy, you should have a certificate. Not only does this make you more attractive to an employer, but it gives you footing if it’s your first time in front of a classroom. I agree that experience is the best teacher but Spain is the land of titulítis.

Vintage Travel: in Wisconsin at age 6

Is a CELTA or TEFL preferred to teach in Spain? While TEFL certificates are king in Asia and South America, many language schools in Spain will require a CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults). There’s good reason for this: the CELTA prepares you to teach the Cambridge Language Exams, which is a language level test that most academies offer.

I don’t really miss teaching as I thought I would, but mostly because I really like what I’m doing now. I do, however, miss my two-month vacation!

What do you do for a living? How did you get into university admissions?

After nine years in the classroom, a Facebook post changed my career rumbo. An American university in Spain was looking for an admissions counselor. I read the job description: people skills, basic computer skills, work permission in Spain. I could handle that. I wrote a fun cover letter, added a picture of myself on the school’s U.S. campus and sent off an email to HR and the Director of Admissions – less than a month later, I had an offer.

IMG_7618

A clue to the institution I work for – from one oddball mascot to the next!

Working for an American-style company (it’s an S.A., which is why I got paid maternity leave and am in the Spanish social security system) is a serious dream. My role includes representing the university in recruitment events in my geographic zone, reading applications, counseling students on visas, and overseeing recruitment and marketing for our graduate programs. It’s a fun challenge, and I’m still in education – and I am using my journalism chops at long last. Like many elements of my life in Spain, patience and perhaps some karma helped tremendously.

Want to get into international student admissions? You should be personable, able to work independently and keep up with trends in enrollment, higher education and whatever social media a teenager would be into. You should also be willing to answer very, very mundane questions. Working for a small, niche school has its challenges, so every enrolled student feels like a win – especially when you met that student at a college fair, set up a campus visit, helped them choose classes, and given them a hug at orientation.

As schools begin to look abroad (Fall 2019’s cohort was born the same year as 9-11, eh, meaning less kids to go around), many universities are amping up recruitment efforts abroad. Even in Spain, think beyond study abroad!

What is your favorite post on your blog?

Sometimes when I hit publish, I am excited to see how my readers react. Most times, I’m like, “cool, cross that off my todoist app” because of the amount of work that goes into a post. Editing photos, choosing the right words and kinda caring about SEO. I can mull for days over how to frame a post – often choosing to wait a year so that it’s timely.

Asking me to choose my favorite post depends on what I have a craving for reading.

doris shoes

From itchy feet to firmly planted in Spain

Perhaps one of the posts I find myself going back and reading the most is The Guiri Complex (Or, why I Can’t Have it All). Pounded out on a keyboard shortly after an American food store opened in the same storefront where I’d bought a flamenco dress, I was wrestling with more than just an overpriced box of Cheerios and whether or not I wanted it: it was a moment where I was torn between the life I had built in Sevilla, and the life I thought I could have in the U.S.

Curious: do you guys have any posts you particularly like? I’d love to hear them!

What is the Novio’s real name?

I recently met up for a beer (well, like a dozen) with Joy of @joyofmadrid. As soon as we’d sat down, she said, “I’m so glad we can skip over the basics because we already know one another.”

..and the other one. Believe it or not, Kike is Madrileño! But still Bético.

Ah, youth. This was eight years ago.

I’m not exactly a public figure, but I realize that people know who I am, what I do and where I like to have a caña. But my husband is an extremely private person and someone who is not into social media, internet cookies (or regular cookies, actually) or sharing his personal life. I can respect that, and for this reason he shall remain nameless.

And, no, I did not move here for the Novio. But he’s part of the reason I stayed.

Will you ever return to the U.S.?

Great question. While I don’t want to close the door to returning to live in the land of cooking with butter, I don’t see it happening. Where would the Novio get his hueso salao for puchero? How could I ever go back to not having health insurance? It’s not impossible, but I think it’s unlikely.

It's trite, but Chicago really is my kind of town.

Still my favorite place in the world.

Truthfully, moving to the US freaks me out – the staggering cost of living on meager savings, starting a job search from abroad, letting go of my Spanish lifestyle. The dream would be an American salary in Spain, but everyone makes sacrifices, right?

Cruzcampo is not one of those sacrifices.

If you didn’t live in Seville, where would you live? Where should I live?

te quiero sevilla

I always said that if I didn’t live in Seville, I’d live in Madrid. And now that the Spanish capital is “home,” I’d choose Seville again. It truly is la ciudad de mi arma, even with its faults (and that reminds me – I really love my break up post).

When I announced via Facebook that I’d be leaving Seville for Madrid, one commenter warned me of how soulless Madrid felt to her. My friend Lindsay, who has lived in both cities put it best (and I love her for it): Cat can find her people and her home anywhere.

Visit Lastres Asturias

But if I must choose – I really love Asturias and could see myself up north with a bouganvilla-covered house in a little fishing village near where the Novio summered. Send rebujito if this ever happens.

What are your tips for making friends abroad?

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

Currently in Sevilla, Denver, San Francisco, New York, Madrid, Sevilla and Jakarta, but forever in Calle Bombita

Saying that the friends I made in Spain are half of my Spanish world would be an understatement. There’s an affinity that we have, as Americans, that extends beyond our shared language and culture. My group and I have left home for Spain – sometimes for the adventure, sometimes for a novio. Most of them had studied abroad in Sevilla (everyone in the photo but me, in fact!) and most of us arrived in 2007.

Had I not met the women I call my Spain Dream Team, there’s a fairly large probability that I wouldn’t have stuck around. The Novio often traveled for work abroad for long stretches of time, so I wizened up and found a group of women about my age who planned on Spain long-term. Little by little, my small circle of sevillamericanas has grown (but not without a few hard bajas).

Remember how your parents told you to leave your dorm room door open during your first week of college? I did that, too, but figuratively. I never turned down an invitation, but in an age where social media was as creeperific, I spent a lot of time at home with a box of Magnum bars.

IMG-20180224-WA0041

I solemnly swear that we are up to no good.

When you’re looking to meet friends abroad, consider what you’re already into doing – there are meet ups for everything from hiking with kids to knitting. If there’s a local expat group, go to an outing or two, or at least tap into their resources. Of those pictured above, most of us met be being introduced by someone else – ask for introductions and don’t think it’s weird (we’re literally all in the same situation, or have been!). Don’t be afraid to invite people for a coffee – I used to drag my German roommate to a cuchitre bar on our street to practice Spanish, and a cook at one of the tapas bars near my house and I kept in touch (and he opened a new bar recently!).

Advice on when friends move? In the picture of us dressed in trajes de gitana – one of my favorites – only three of us are still in Spain, but we’ve seen one another at least once in the last two years. A part of me dies when one of my friends announces that she’s moving away from Spain and I have ZERO advice other than whatsapp.

Do you have any advice for someone moving to Spain?

After my first year in Spain, I returned to my summer job at an outlet mall in suburbia. Tasked with folding rows of chinos and steaming dress shirts at Banana Republic, I struck up a conversation with an American who had just returned from 17 years in Galicia. As I found her sizes and zipped up dresses, she reminded me, “Spain will change you. No vuelvas just yet.” Seventeen years seemed like an awful long time to be away from my family, my language and my culture, but I assured her I’d stay another year.

Dreamy.

I’ve never forgotten that milestone. By the time I’ve been here 17 years, I will have probably had another kid, maybe moved again and who knows what else. If someone had told me that I’d fall for a Spaniard when abroad, I would have believed them. Had someone told me I’d live my adult life here? I wouldn’t.

I’m often asked what I’d do differently. Truthfully, not too much. Maybe I would have tried harder on this blog, or tried harder to make more professional connections earlier. Maybe I would have saved more money. I probably would have paid a little more money for an apartment with air-con because, damn, Sevilla is hot. But in the grand scheme of things, I’m pleased with how things have gone – even those hours, sitting in the dark eating Magnum bars when I had no friends.

mercado de san miguel madrid

My advice? Remember that it’s not your home country, so nothing will be the same. Spanish customer service is pitiful, traffic is just as bad as in the US but with crappy radio. Life is life in Spain, but as they say: Spain is different. Not a good different of bad different, necessarily.

Just different – and fun, challenging, enriching and delicious. Here’s to 11 more!

Any other burning  questions for a long-term expat in Spain?

This post contains links to my residency blog, COMO Consulting Spain, including links to our online shop. Have a click on any of the links to learn more about how to move to and work in Spain. We were recently hacked, so every click makes a world of difference (and we put a humorous spin on Spanish red tape!).

Resources for Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Rape Victims in Spain

On April 11th, 2018, the Today Show aired the story of Gabrielle Vega, a young woman who alleged she was raped while studying abroad in Spain. While on a semester in Salamanca, Gabrielle contracted the services of a student-run tourism company, Discover Excursions, to travel to Morocco. Given that Morocco isn’t the safest place to explore at night, one of the guides (and owner), Manuel Vela Blanco, invited Gabrielle and two friends to his hotel room for a drink. With his back turned, she alleges, he poured a glass of champagne.

The next morning, she woke up woozy and realized she’d been violated by the same person entrusted to keep her safe in Morocco.

I wish I could say I was shocked, but I wasn’t. Rumors have long swirled around Manu and his employees  – I’ve been privy to them boasting about sleeping with multiple women a night – but he continued to run a successful tourism company whose target market was female study abroad students. I’m disgusted that I interviewed for Discover Excursions in 2009, the year Blanco Vela bought out the company and the rumors began emerging.

Since that date, more than 30 women have come forward with a similar story (not everyone was raped) and authorities in Spain are investigating the allegations.

I was deeply affected by Gabrielle’s testimony. Even as someone who has never been their client and much less their friend, I reached out to Gabrielle on social media and asked how I could help. Her request was simple: a list of resources for women who might find themselves in a similar situation. Working in higher education, I am familiar with Title IX reporting, with local resources in Madrid and how to file a police report – but there is not an extensive list.

I seek to provide that here. When I began this blog post in late April 2018, I had no idea of how reporting worked or that there was infrastructure in place to help victims.

Sadly, domestic violence and sexual assault are an everyday occurrence in Spain. Have you heard of La Manada, a group of men from Seville who were recently convicted of sexual misconduct after allegedly gang raping a woman at the San Fermines festival in 2016? Spain is behind the times when it comes to handling sexual assault and rape charges, and even something supposedly harmless like cat calls are commonplace – but citizens are thankfully speaking out, and each autonomous community has resources for victims – from hotlines to pamphlets to volunteers.

empty bench lonely

Please share the information about where to go if you are the victim of a sexual assault, of sexual violence, or of rape while in Spain. Even if you think it will do no good to denounce someone while abroad or you feel ashamed to report, now is the time that we must speak up. Below you will find a growing list of resources for the major study abroad cities, which happen to be many of Spain’s largest. If you have further information, please comment or email me so that I can update the list.

What constitutes rape or sexual abuse in Spain?

It’s helpful to know a little bit about law in Spain regarding sexual abuse, gender violence and rape, which is under fire with the La Manada conviction. Spanish penal code defines both sexual abuse (abuso sexual) and rape (violación) as an act against a person’s sexual liberty.

Much like a robbery or petty theft, there is a heavier penalty when violence is exercised against the victim. This could be through intimidation or force but can be difficult to prove – and this is exactly why the Manada, a group of five guys who gang raped a woman during the San Fermines festival, were let off. Worse, they filmed the rape and planned it ahead of time, sharing the crime on a whatsapp group.

Hermana yo te creo

The jail time associated with each is from one to five years if there is evidence of violence; if not, the maximum prison time drops to three years. Like I said, Spain is a little behind the times when it comes to punishing these sorts of crimes.

Spain-wide resources

If you are the victim of a sex-related crime in Spain, follow these steps immediately after the crime and making sure you are ok (better to have a trusted friend and preferably one who speaks Spanish):

  1. Have a medical examination performed. The word for rape in Spanish is violación, and you should keep a copy of the medical report for the police report.
  2. File a police report (denuncia) at a National Police Station.
  3. Contact the Servicio de Atención a mujeres víctimas de Violencia de Género (Support Service for Women Victims of Gender-based Violence, herein referred to as S.A.V.G.) – 24 hour service, where you will receive specialized social, psychological, and legal support and where they will help you to come up with a safety plan for potential risk situations. This service is available 24 hours a day, 365 day; the number is (+34) 900 222 100 and is free to the caller. You may also use this service if you are not a legal resident of Spain or in an “irregular” residency situation. Email is savg24h@madrid.es.

The emergency number in Spain (similar to 911) is 112. The hotline for women who have been physically or sexually abused is 016. Both hotlines are free to call and are available in several languages (some lesser-spoken languages are only available from 8am – 6pm during the work week).

If you are the victim of any sort of crime in Spanish territory (this includes Ceuta and Melilla), you are strongly encouraged to fill out a police report. This is called a denuncia, and it can be filed at any National Police (policia nacional) station, which are open 24 hours a day. Here is where to file a police report. Be sure to be as descriptive as possible, bring an ID with you and, if you feel your Spanish is not up to par, bring someone who can translate.

You can file in person, via telephone (at a cost) to 902 102 112 from 9am until 9pm. Victims of sexual abuse or rape cannot file a police report of this nature online. If the crime was committed outside of Spain but involves a Spanish national, it may be hard to file a report and you may get pushback – but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

In Spain, gender violence, also known as domestic violence or violencia de género, is investigated and prosecuted via the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality (Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad), they have an informational sheet about your rights (mostly directed towards victims of violencia de género). The Guardia Civil is tasked with investigating violent crimes against women and minors as part of the EMUME program. They have an office in each province, which you can download here. In addition, there is a Spain-wide toggle search of resources according to the type of service you are looking for, as well as geographic location.

I cannot tell if ATENPRO still exists and whether or not it is a program funded by the Spanish government or by the Red Cross of Spain.

Your country’s Embassy or nearest consulate will have resources, too, and it’s understood that the consular agents are tasked with protecting the interests of their constituents. Most Embassies are located in Madrid (a full list is available here) and many have consulates around Spain. The US has consulates in Spanish territory in Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, Fuengirola (Málaga) Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Palma de Mallorca. Andorra is also under the jurisdiction of the US Mission to Spain.

The US Embassy website and American Citizen Services in Spain – including emergency services – can be found here. You can also request a translator through ACS.

20180505_134840

Additionally, most major cities have a branch of the Instituto de la Mujer (Spanish only). You can read about your rights in the event of a crime via an online contact form or find information about legislation in Spain regarding sexual harassment and asault. The organization is headquartered in Madrid on Condesa de Venadito, 34. The nearest metro stop is Barrio de Concepción (Line 7), or you can take bus 53 from Puerta del Sol. Below, I detail the contact information of the Instituto de la Mujer in popular study abroad and touristic destinations.

The city of Madrid has put out a short pamphlet (in English) about where to go and what to do if you have been assaulted or raped. Further, Red Ormiga provides assistance to undocumented immigrants, including in cases of rape or sexual violence.

If you suspect you have a sexually transmitted disease, called an enfermedad de transmición sexual, you can have a test performed at any public clinic, so long as you are registered through an empadronamiento.

Important: if the person harassing or violating you has access to your computer or phone, always clear your browser history. Many websites listed on this post will also have a button called “salida rápida” which will allow you to close the page quickly. I, unfortunately, do not.

Finally, you can choose to do online counseling via Better Help. If you are in Spain with health insurance, check out your options, as many programs will allow you to see a therapist as part of your coverage.

Pathways to Safety: an overseas resource for Americans abroad who have been victims of sexual abuse, rape or aggression 

American victims of sexual assault and violence have access to a toll-free crisis phone number. Dial the country code first, which for Spain is 900-99-0011. After dialing the country code, the victim will be prompted to dial the hotline’s direct number, which is 833-SAFE-833 (833-723-3833).

Important: For calls on a mobile phone, the call should be deleted from the call history log for safety reasons. On a landline, they should first hang up the receiver, then pick it up and dial another random number and then hang up again. This prevents someone from redialing, and this can help you stay safe at the hands of a person who is hurting you.

The phone number is for immediate response. You also have the option to email a crisis case manager at crisis@pathwaystosafety.org. The response time via email may be anywhere from two hours to six hours; in an emergency situation, a phone call would illicit an immediate response. If a victim chooses to report their assault to the police, an English interpreter will be provided upon request. If you are traveling alone, you can contact the U.S. Embassy to request that an officer accompany you for the medical examination in addition to a police station.

Pathways to Safety seeks to help victims of interpersonal and gender based violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, and forced marriage. At this time, they only help Americans who become victims while abroad in ways like safety planning, legal aid services, counseling, and transition and basic needs assistance either in a foreign country or back in the United States, whenever possible.

You could also contact RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network headquartered in the USA. They have an 800-number and a live chat in the event you are a victim or would like to consult the statute of limitations.

Resources for sexual crime victims in popular study abroad destinations in Spain

This post is not meant to be directed only at students enjoying a semester in Spain. But the truth is that rape culture is prevalent in the US, particularly at the university level. Remember the Penn State sexual abuse scandal a few years ago? It’s estimated that one in six university students will be victims of sexual harassment or abuse.
Additionally, study abroad students are often more vulnerable – the drinking age is lower in many countries, they are out of their cultural and linguistic element and often lack the knowledge of how to deal with intense or potentially dangerous situations. There is even a 2013 study about how young women on a semester abroad are at a higher risk for becoming victims of sexual crimes.
I’ve taken the most popular study abroad destinations in Spain and found a few local resources. I will be adding to this list every time I find new or updated information. You can also check the site Securely Travel, which is a blog run by a former security adviser and who has covered Ms. Vega’s case.

Madrid

metro of Madrid

Madrid is regarded as one of the safest cities in the world, but lewd comments and catcalling are, sadly, commonplace in La Capital. You will find a number of resources here, including headquarters and a number of non-profits. This list will likely expand.
Important: If you are the victim of a violent crime and require a rape kit done in Madrid, you should go to Hospital de la Paz and ask for an evaluación forénsica to be performed. Be sure to fill out a police report prior to your hospital visit. Paseo de la Castellana, 261, metro Begońa (Line 10). +34 917 27 70 00.
You can find a list of shelters and resources in English, published by the local government, at this link (in Spanish here). If you are outside of the Madrid city limits, there are satellite offices and shelters in several large towns, published here.
  • APUNE – an organization of American university programs in Spain. They are located on General Martínez Campos, 24,between the Iglesia (Line 1) and Gregorio Marañón (Line 7) metro stops. +34 91 319 91 18.
  • SINEWS – a multi-lingual counseling company offering support for victims. Their offices are at Zurbano, 34. Nearest metro stops are Rubén Darío (Line 7) and Alonso Martínez (Lines 4, 5 and 10). +34 91 700 19 79; +34 60 926 93 23 is the emergency line.
  • Asociación Asistencia Mujeres Violadas – a non-profit that provides psychological and legal support to rape victims at Calle Alcalá 124, 1º A. Metros are Manuel Becerra (Lines 2 and 6) and Goya (lines 2 and 4). +91 574 01 10; asociacion@cavasmadrid.es.
  • Servicio De Atención A La Mujer (Sam) – a newly-formed division of the National Police tasked with investigating violent and sexual crimes. The Madrid-based headquarters is located in the Comisaría de Policía at Avda. Doctor Federico Rubio y Gali, 55; Metro at Francos Rodríguez (Line 7). +34 913 22 34 21.

To file a restraining order, you can do so at the located at the Comunidad de Madrid Dirección General de la Mujer at Calle Madrazo, 34, 3rd floor. The nearest Metro is Banco de España (Line 2); +34 91 720 62 38: or at C/ Manuel de Falla 7 , 2ª pta. (nearest metros are Santiago Bernabeu and Cuzco, both on Line 10) +34 91 720 62 38.

This is saddening but also necessary: In Madrid, you can now share where and by whom you were assaulted on this interactive map via Free to Be Madrid. I urge you to share your story, in English or Spanish.

Andalusia: Sevilla, Málaga and Granada

Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

In Sevilla (as well as Granada, Málaga and any other town in Andalusia), the Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicos Sociales e Igualdad and the division known as the Instituto de la Mujer are responsible for overseeing resources for reporting and attending to victims. The autonomous community-wide ministry is located in the capital of Seville at Avenida de Hytasa, 1, +34 95 500 63 00; the central office for the Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer for the entire comunidad is located in the center of town at Doña María Coronel, 6: +34 95 454 4910, consulta.iam@juntadeandalucia.es.

That said, you can find information about the Instituto de la Mujer in each province of Andalusia, as well as their satellite offices in other municipalities in the same link. The organization provides shelters and psychological help for victims of gender violence, as well as health and employment training.

Córdoba

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Córdoba

Avda. Ollerías nº 48 (14071).

Teléfono: 957 003 400. Fax: 957 003 412.

cmujer.cordoba.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

Granada

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Granada

C/ San Matías, 17 (18009).

Teléfono: 958 025 800. Fax: 958 025 818.

cmujer.granada.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

Málaga

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Málaga

C/ San Jacinto, 7 (29007) Málaga

Teléfono: 951 040 847. Fax: 951 040 848.

cmujer.malaga.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

Sevilla

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Sevilla

C/ Alfonso XII nº 52 (41002).

Teléfono: 955 034 944. Fax: 955 035 957.

cmujer.sevilla.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

  • The Servicio de Asistencia de Víctimas de Andalucía is a gender-inclusive psychological and judicial support service for victims of crimes – which includes foreigners, tourists and minors. There are offices in each province of Andalusia and the Campo de Gibraltar, and their services are listed in their English-language pamphlet.
  • The Costa del Sol chapter of Soroptimist International is active, championing for women’s issues and providing support in nearly four dozen languages.

There are US Consulates in both Sevilla (Plaza Nueva, 8) and Fuengirola, a town to the west of Málaga (Juan Gómez Juanito, 8).

If you need a restraining order, you can follow the steps listed on the Junta de Andalucía’s website.

Castilla y León: Salamanca

rainy in plaza mayor valladolid

While the Junta de Castilla y León is located in Valladolid, where I chose to study abroad in Spain, the capital isn’t home to a plehora of Erasmus students or co-eds on a semester overseas. The regional government provides a list of resources under the Health and Social Services Ministry and runs a program known as PAWLA to bring resources straight to victims of gender and sexual violence.

The Sección de Mujer of Salamanca – home to one of the world’s oldest universities and a destination for abroad programs, it located in the Edificio Administrativo de Usos Múltiples (ESAUM) on C/ Príncipe de Vergara, 53-71 – Planta Baja; (+34) 923 296 746 or (+34) 923 136 458. This governmental organism also provides help to family matters and those dependent on drugs; the list of satellite offices is found on the Familia, drogopendencias y mujer section of the Junta de Castilla y León’s website.

The central office for the Centro de Acción Social (CEAS), which deals with citizens in crisis, is located in Valladolid, but a simple Google search will yield the office nearest you – even if you’re not in a provincial capital. They will be able to direct you to more resources and translators, if needed.

Finally, the Asociación de Asistencia a Víctimas de Agresiones Sexuales y Violencia de Género is active in Castilla y León and partially funded by the regional government. León, Valladolid and Burgos are of note; the Salamanca office is located at C/ Corral de Villaverde, 1, 5ºB; the office phone is (+34) 923 26 05 99 or the 24-hour (+34) 609 83 53 36. 

Cataluña: Barcelona

parc guell barcelona3

Many will argue that Catalonia is not Spain, but the northeastern region of the Iberian peninsula is also known for being one of the more progressive. A simple Google search for this post brought back a number of resources for victims of sexual crimes, including free therapy sessions for victims of sexual crimes during youth, monetary compensations for victims and a number of organizations meant to protect and support victims.

While the official language of all of Spain is Castillian Spanish, it’s more common to hear catalán or inglés. That said, if you speak in Spanish in larger urban areas, you will be attended to in Spanish. Keep in mind that, at the time of publication, local law enforcement is upheld by the Mossos d’Esquadra, a division of the Civil guard whose day-to-day operations are run by the Catalan government. Within Catalonia, the emergency number 012 will connect you to the Mossos; you can also dial (+34) 932 14 21 24 outside of the region.

Like all other regions, you should follow the protocol of calling the police, having a pelvic exam and making a denuncia, as outline in this PDF about sexual assault and rape put out by the catalán government. To file a police report, the Mossos Denuncias page describes how and where to do so around the comunidad. And bravo to the Catalonian government’s website that has clear instructions and resources for the whole region, the most relevant of which are listed below.

The general hotline for victims of sexual crime in Catalonia is: (+34) 900 90 01 20 (24/7).

Two major hospitals in Barcelona will treat victims of sexual assault and have specialized units for their emotional and psychical treatment:

The public Hospital Clínic de Barcelona is one of the largest treatment centers in the region, and in addition to an ER and psychological units, treats victims in the Programa de Prevención y Tratamiento de las Secuelas Psíquicas en Mujeres Víctimas de Agresión Sexual c/ Rosselló, 140, bajos; (+34) 629 63 45 53. Note that the aforementions unit is only open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 am until 1pm. Hospital Sant Joan de Deu has a Unidad de Agresiones Sexuales for sexually abused minors. Ctra. De Esplugas, s/n: (+34) 932 80 40 00.

  • Catalonia’s Instituto de la Mujer is part of the Minsterio de Bienestar y la Familia. Their page regarding sexual crimes is in catalán, but you can find the office at Plza. Pere Coromines: (+34) 934 95 16 00; icd@gencat.cat
  • The Oficine de Atenció de Víctimas de l’Delicte (OAVD) is a division of the Ministry of Justice that can help you with legal matters related to sxual crimes.Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 111. Edificio I. planta 3ª; (+34) 900 12 18 84 (toll free); atenciovictima.dji@gencat.net.
  • The Servei d’Atenció, Recuperación i Acollida (SARA) goes a step beyond by offering refuge to women, children and anyone who has been the victim of sexual violence as well as anyone in their family o immediate circle.. It is a division of DONA. C/ Marie Curie, 16: (+34) 932 91 59 10; sara@bcn.cat
  • Associació Assistència a Dones Agredides Sexualment (AADAS) provides survivors with legal and psychological support. (+34) 934 87 57 60; http://www.aadas.org.

Finally, there is a US consulate with select Embassy powers in Barcelona in the Sarrià neighborhood at Paseo Reina Elisenda de Montcada, 23; (+34) 93 280 22 27; the Ask Citizens Services email is barcelonaacs@state.gov. The nearest subway station is Reina Elisenda (the end of Line 12).

Communitat Valenciana: Alicante and Valencia

Fallera Women in Las Fallas

In Valencia, the Instituto de la Mujer is overseen by the Consejería de Bienestar Social and, at a more local level, the Dirección General de Familia y Mujer. Unfortunately, many of the websites and associations listed on the Consejería’s website were broken or out of date (the Plan of Action was last updated in 2012 and only gave actions through 2014, for example). You can reach the central line, operative 24 hours a day, at (+34) 900 58 08 88 or (+34) 900 152 152 for the hearing impaired. The Generalitat also lists police commissaries that have special attention to victims of sexual assault.

You may find that some services operate first in valencià, a language closely related to catalán. Those organizations with pages in English have been added here, though the most complete information will be in valencià or castellano.

  • Institut de les Dons in the Comunitat Valenciana is located on C/ Castán Tobeñas, 77 in the Ciutat Administrativa 9 d´ Octubre, torre 3; (+34) 961 24 75 89; mujer_web@gva.es. Closest metro is Nou d’ Octubre (lines 3, 5, 9).
  • Their counterpart Alicantina, la Coordinación La Dona, is on Av/ Oscar Esplá, 33-35 in Alicante. (+34) 965 92 97 47.
  • The Centro de Asistencia a Víctimas de Agresiones Sexuales is likely to give more support. While they do not have resources in English on their webpage, they are a reference in Spain for their pioneering work in support for victims and are right in the center of town. C/ Guillem de Castro, 100; (+34) 963 94 30 69; info@cavascv.org.
  • The Asociación para la Protección e Integración de la Mujer provides services for immigrants, particularly for victims of abuse. They are headquartered in Valencia at C/ Baron de Carcer, 48 8L; asociacionprim@hotmail.com.

Further, the Generalitat offers economic help to survivors who meet certain socioeconomic conditions, such as residency and income. This page is in Spanish, as well as the online platform to apply.

There is a US Consulate near the Colom metro stop on Carrer del Dr. Romagosa, 1, 46002; (+34) 963 51 69 73.

País Vasco: Bilbao and San Sebastián

Lastres Asturias village

Like Catalonia, the Basque country has a higher degree of autonomy; their police force is known as Ertzaintza. Again, although the official language of the whole country is Castillian Spanish, you may find that resources or services are in euskera first; the Ministry of Justice does have an informative pamphlet in English about the steps victims should take, as well as contact information for the following resources and services.

  • The Specialized Information Service and Hotline Service For Female Victims of Domestic Violence (S.A.TE.VI.) is available around the clock for confidential information and support at (+34) 945 01 93 27 or (+34)  945 01 93 16; violenciacontramujeres@euskadi.eus. The hearing and speech impaired can get assistance by sending a text message to (+34) 600 12 31 12 with personal details and location, by typing the words “gender violence”.
  • The Servicio de Asistencia a la Víctima (Victim Assistance Service, or SAV),  is service which provided by the Basque Government that offers information and the social, legal and psychological assistance. They have limited hours, so you should call authorities outside of normal business hours, taking into account reduced hours and staffing in the summer months.
Bilbao

Palacio de Justicia

Ibáñez de Bilbao, 3-5

(+34) 900 40 00 28 (free phone)

(+34) 944 01 64 87

San Sebastián

Palacio de Justicia

Plaza Teresa de Calcuta, 1

(+34) 900 10 09 28 (free phone)

(+34) 943 00 07 68

  • The Instituto Vasco de la Mujer is known as Emakunde in the Basque language, and their services also extend to men who have been victims of sexual crimes. The main office is located in the Basque capital of Victoria-Gasteiz (+34 945 01 67 00); emakunde@euskadi.eus. They have a website in English and have listed their protocols in a helpful PDF (in Spanish). I could not find information about satellite offices in the comunidad.
Title IX
If you are on a program abroad through a US university, there will likely be a Title IX point person. Originally meant to prevent discrimination based on sex, race or creed, it also covers sexual harassment and sexual violence, and the Clery Act deals with reporting crime on campuses.
If your study abroad program (I believe this can only be program-related and not a private company, such as CIEE) does not have a point person or does not report, they may be in violation of the Clery Act and you should push them to train staff members.
Discover Excursions
If you have anything to share about being a survivor of a sex crime related to Manuel Vela Blanco or a staff member of Discover Excursions in Sevilla, you are encouraged to write Gabrielle Vega at: desurvivorsspeakup@gmail.com. At the time of the original posting, the company had cancelled their upcoming trips and their offices are closed. Plus, their social media has been wiped. While they may be difficult to convict, we’re making progress:
Discover Excursions
I could not have written this post without the help of Nicole Pradel, Meghan Holloway, Lindsay Vick, Helen Lyons Poloquin, Ali Meehan of Costa Women – and, of course, Gabrielle Vega. They are not only women I admire and call friends, but they took also it upon themselves to gather resources and reach out to their contacts. Niñas, thank you for fighting with me.
where to go if you've been assaulted or raped in Spain
This post is meant to be a starting off point – women in Spain are angry and we’re shouting at the patriarchy and misogyny. If you know any other websites, groups, demonstrations or the like, please comment below or email me, and I will add them to the list.

Seville, I’m breaking up with you

Querida Sevilla mía,

You know that age-old, “It’s not you, it’s me”? Well, it’s not me. Eres tú. We’ve reached the end of a nine-year relationship, one marked with uncertainty at the beginning, with as much elation as frustration in the years since we became intimate. And más pronto que tarde, I knew we’d end up here.

Te estoy dejando.

giralda sunset1

My friend Stacy maintains that the first Spaniard you fall for is never the one you stay with – it’s always the second. If Spanish lovers were cities, you’d be my second great love, my second Spaniard. Two years before we got to know each other, Valladolid entered my life. Stately and daunting, but a romance that was always a little off. Castilla y León’s capital never did it for me, a bit too cold and a bit too stand-offish to be anything long-term. Neither the castles nor the robust red wine could woo me, but it was a foray into what it meant to truly love a city.

You and I met on a sweltering July day in 2005, your characteristic heat baking midday as I dragged a suitcase towards Calle Gravina. Back then, the Alameda was all albero, you could drive down Constitution and around the roundabout at Puerta Jerez and there was a noticeable lack of skyscrapers, gastrobars and coffee houses. On the surface, you were beautiful, but I pined for Valladolid, not entirely convinced you were boyfriend material.

tapas bodeguita romero typical Spanish tavern

Two years later, we were thrust together again. Still sore from being flat-out rejected by Granada, I set out to try and get to know you on a Sunday evening in late September when everything was shuttered. Walking down Pagés del Coro, I craned my neck to watch the swallows dip between the balconies and around the spire of La Estrella chapel.

Swallows, golondrinas, always return to where they’re from. Even at that moment, exhausted from two weeks traveling and unsure about starting my job the next morning at IES Heliche, I knew I had returned to where I was to be from. In those tender first steps in our relationship, I was smitten. I would soon fall deeply in love with you.

Plaza del Altozano Triana

But today, nine years later, I ripped the band aid off, and HARD. I just up and left it seems, without time for long goodbyes at all of the places I’ve come to haunt in these years together, to the hundreds of caras I’ve come to know in the barrio. No ugly cries, just a few tears pricking my eyes as I locked up my house, rolled one suitcase to the bus stop and headed towards Santa Justa and, later, Madrid.

Like I said, it’s you, not me.

I guess you could say I saw this coming, like that little ball that sits low in your stomach when you know life is going to darte un giro in a big, big way. I needed that giro because you’d simply gotten to easy. I can understand even the oldest abuelo buried deep into one of your old man bars, can no longer get lost in your tangle of streets. You are a comfortable lover, warm and welcoming, familiar and comforting.

But I’m not one to be estancada, stagnant, comfortable. Walking down La Castellana in March, the ball in my stomach dissipated as I skipped from a job interview back towards Atocha. The trees were bare, but the sky was the same bright blue that always welcomes me in Seville. As they say, de Madrid al cielo. Madrid was calling.

Sunshine and Siestas at the Feria de Abril

Sevilla, you’ve been more than good to me, giving me just about everything I’ve ever needed. You’re easy on the eyes, fiery and passionate, deeply sensual and surprising. You’ve shown me the Spain I always wanted to find, even between castles and tintos de Ribera del Duero and my first impression of Spain. You’ve reignited my love for culture, for making strangers my friends, for morning beers and for living in the moment. You changed me for the better.

And you will always be that second great love, te lo prometo. Triana will always be my home.

But you’ve just gotten too small. My dreams and ambitions are too big for your pueblo feel, as much as I’ve come to love it. Your aesthetic beauty continues to enchant me as I ride my bike past the cathedral at twilight or I leave extranjería and am not even mad that my least favorite place in Seville is also one of my favorites. Your manjares are no match for the sleek pubs and international food in Madrid, which I know I’ll grow tired of.

ceramics at Plaza de España Seville Spain

I admit that it was difficult to reach your core, to understand the way you are and learn to appreciate those nuances. At the beginning, it was all new and fun and boisterous, the out-loud way that you live each day, those directionless afternoons and long, raucous nights. Lunches that stretch into breakfast. Balmy evenings, Cruzcampo in hand. Festival after procession after traffic jam. Unforgettable sunsets. Unannounced rain showers. Biting cold and scalding heat. You are a city of extremes and mood swings, for sure, but you’re at your best that way. You are as passionate as they say you are.

Still, there were frustrations with the language, that lazy way that you “forget” letters and entire syllables. Frustrations with getting around and untangling the back alleys of your deepest barrios. Frustrations navigating the choque between our two cultures and figuring out a way to make it work for nearly a decade. There was a lot of give and take, that’s for sure.

my first feria de abril

And that’s not to say you haven’t changed for the better in these nine years together.

You’re more guiri-friendly, easier to get around and constantly coming up with ways to reinvent yourself without losing what makes you, . Even when I rolled by eyes at the Setas, I found the best views from its waffle-like towers. You always find a way to stay true to yourself, even if that means having to take the long way home when the streets are choked with a procession or if I call the Ayuntamiento and they send my call from office to office without ever getting through to an actual human.

But those same things that I once loved have become annoyances as we’ve gotten more comfortable with one another. Some of it is trivial, lo sé, but in the bigger scheme of things, we need time apart. Room to breathe, to try new things. I can’t get everything I need from you right now, Seville, y ya está. I know the decision was quick and may have its repercussions, but it’s what I have to do right now if we ever want a chance again.

Expat in Seville Cat Gaa

Madrid presents so many new possibilities. I scoffed at the idea of living there and opening myself up to loving it, but it will never be you. In fact, I think it will be like Valladolid, a tough nut to crack and one whose true character I may never know the way that I know you.

I’ll look for you in the bares de viejos, in a sevillano passing by wearing a Betis t-shirt, in the way that the Madrid gatos will laugh at my accent or look puzzled when I ask for a copistería or a cervecita. You’ll probably follow me around, to be honest. You were never one to let go lightly.

I love Seville Heart Necklace

This morning, as I drove over the San Telmo bridge towards Triana, the swallows returned. It was already a warm July morning, maybe even eleven years to the day since I first felt the breeze over the Guadalquivir. Eres un amor para toda la vida, Sevilla. Maybe in three or five years’ time, we’ll find ourselves back together, a bit more mature and ready for a new stage in our relationship. You’ll have changed, I have no doubt, and so will I.

But if the golondrinas are any indication, volveré. It’s the natural course.

Con todo mi cariño,

Cat

Wondering about my absence the past two months? I’ve been back and forth on the AVE, making trips to Madrid for job interviews, spending time alone with Sevilla and even squeezed in a ten-day trip to the US for my sister’s wedding. On July 3rd, 2016 – coincidentally the same day I applied for my visa for Spain in 2007 – the Novio and I officially moved to Madrid. I’ll start a job in a few weeks as an admissions counselor at a prestigious American university with a campus in the heart of La Capi. Adiós, teaching – never thought I’d see the day!!

No time for complatency

Will I like Madrid? I’m positive I will. Will I love it? Not in the same way that I love Seville, but the Novio and I have big plans for the next few years, and Seville was simply too small for our career ambitions. I’m not entirely sure how the scope of Sunshine and Siestas, a blog that has largely been about Andalucía, will change, but you can count on my voice coming through! 

I’m curious to hear your reactions to the news, which I’ve managed to keep surprisingly quiet! Not even sure I believe it myself!

Ten Mistakes New Language Assistants Make (and how to avoid them)

My Spanish now-husband couldn’t help but laugh when I looked, puzzled, at our new coffee maker. I was jetlagged, yes, but also coming off six weeks of straight drip machine American coffee. The cafetera had me reconsidering a caffeine boost and swapping it for a siesta.

‘Venga ya,’ he said, exasperated, ‘every time you come back into town, you act like you’re a complete newbie to Spain!’ He twisted off the bottom of the pot, filled it with steaming water and ordered me to unpack.

Even after eight years of calling Spain home, I can so clearly remember the days when everything in Seville was new, terrifying and overwhelming. That time when the prospect of having a conversation with my landlord over the phone meant nervously jotting down exactly what I’d say to him before dialing.

You know my Spain story – graduate, freak out about getting a teaching job in Spain, find an internationally recognized TESOL certificate that would make me competitive in the ESL world and successfully complete it, hassles with my visa, taking a leap by moving to a foreign country where I knew not a soul.  How I settled into a profession I swore I never would, found a partner and fought bureaucracy. I’ve come a long way since locking myself in my bedroom watching Arrested Development to avoid Spanish conversation, though each year I get more and more emails from aspiring expats and TEFL teachers who ask themselves the same questions:

Is it all worth it? Is it possible at all? How can I do it?

Like anyone moving to a foreign country, there’s a load of apprehension, endless questions, and a creeping sense of self-doubt as your flight date looms nearer and nearer. I tried and learned the hard way how to do practically everything, from looking for a place to live to paying bills to finding a way to make extra income. Call it dumb luck or call it nagging anyone who would lend a friendly ear, but I somehow managed to survive on meager Spanish and a few nice civil servants (and tapas. Lots of tapas.).

As a settled expat, I am quick to warn people that Spain is not all sunshine and siestas, and that it’s easy to fall into the same traps that got me during that long first year. Year after year, I see language assistants do the same, so let these serve as a warning:

Packing too much

Back in 2007, I packed my suitcase to the brim and even toppled over when I stepped off the train in Granada. Lesson learned – really think about what you’re packing, the practicality of every item and whether or not you could save space by purchasing abroad. There are nearly more packing Don’ts than Do’s! If you’re smart about packing, you’ll have loads of room for trendy European fashions to wow your friends back home (and you won’t have to lug your bag up three flights of stairs).

Deciding on an apartment without seeing it

Typical house in Seville Spain

I was so nervous about the prospect of renting an apartment that I found one online, wired money and hoped for the best. Despite my gut telling me it was maybe not the smartest idea, I decided to grin and bear it. I ended staying in that same flat for three years.

In hindsight, choosing a flat before seeing it was a stupid move that could have turned out poorly. What if I didn’t like my roommates, or the neighborhood? How could I tell if it was noisy or not? Would my landlords be giant jerks? Save yourself the trouble and worry about finding a place to live when you get here.

Choosing not to stay in touch with loved ones

My first weeks in Spain were dark ones – I struggled to see what my friends and family were up to on Facebook or messenger, and I did a terrible job of staying in touch with them. I was bursting to share my experience, but worried no one would relate, or worse – they simply wouldn’t care. Get over it and Facetime like crazy, download whatsapp and count down the time difference. That’s what siesta hour was invented for, right?

Not bringing enough money

Money is a sticky issue, and having to deal with what my father calls “funny money” makes it more difficult. Remember – even coins can buy you quite a bit! Consider bringing more money than you might think, because things happen. Some regions won’t pay assistants until December, or you may not be able to find tutoring side jobs. Perhaps you will fall in love with an apartment that is more expensive than you bargained for. Having a cushion will ensure you begin enjoying yourself and your new situation right away, without having to turn down day trips or a night out with new friends. If you need tips, check out my Budgeting Ideas for Spain.

Not taking time to learn Spanish

Moving is scary. Moving abroad is scarier. Moving abroad without being able to hold your own in the local language is the scariest. Take some time to learn Spanish and practice conversation at whatever cost. Spanish will help you accomplish things as mundane as asking for produce at the market to important situations like making formal complaints. Ah, and that brings me to my next point…

Not interacting with locals

I studied abroad in Valladolid and met not one Spanish person during my six weeks there. While I have great memories with my classmates and adored my host family, I feel that I missed out on what young people did in Spain (and I had trouble keeping up when they did talk to me). In most parts of the country, Spaniards are extremely friendly and open to meeting strangers. Even if it’s the old man having coffee next to you – lose your self-doubt and strike up a conversation. I scored cheaper car insurance just by talking to a lonely man at my neighborhood watering hole.

Adhering to timetables and traditions from your home country

As if adapting to language and a new job weren’t enough, Spain’s weird timetables can throw anyone into a funk. I tried getting a sensible night’s sleep for about two weeks when I started to realize that being in bed before midnight was nearly impossible. If you can’t beat them, siesta with them, I guess.

And that’s not to say you can’t bring your traditions to Spain, either. Making Thanksgiving for your Spanish friends is always memorable, as is dressing up on Halloween and carving watermelons for lack of pumpkins. Embrace both cultures.

Not exercising (and eating too many tapas)

My first weeks in Spain were some of my loneliest, to be honest. I hadn’t connected with others and therefore had yet to made friends. I skipped the gym and ate frozen pizzas daily. My weight quickly bloomed ten pounds. The second I began accepting social invitations and making it a point to walk, I dropped everything and more. Amazing what endorphins and Vitamin D can do!

Not getting a carnet joven earlier

Even someone who works to save money flubs – the carnet joven is a discount card for European residents with discounts on travel, entrance fees and even services around Europe. I waited until I was 26 to get one, therefore disqualifying myself from the hefty discounts on trains. This continent loves young people, so get out there and save!

Working too much

Remember that you’re moving to Spain for something, whether it’s to learn the language, to travel or to invest more time in a hobby. Maybe Spain is a temporary thing, or maybe you’ll find it’s a step towards a long-term goal. No matter what your move means to you, don’t spend all of your waking hours working or commuting – you’ll miss out on all of the wonderful things to do, see and experience in Spain. When I list my favorite things about Spain, the way of life is high on my list!

So how do you avoid these mistakes?

It’s easy: research. I spent hours pouring over blogs, reference books and even travel guides to maximize my year and euros in Spain. While there were bumps in the road, and I had to put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d like to recall, I survived a year in Spain and came back for nine more (and counting!).

That’s why COMO Consulting has brought out an enhanced edition of it successful eBook to help those of you who are moving to Spain for the first time. In our ten chapter, 135-page book, you’ll find all of the necessary information to get you settled into Spain as seamlessly as possible. In it, we cover all of the documents you’ll need to get a NIE, how to open a bank account, how to seek out the perfect apartment, setting up your internet and selecting a mobile phone and much (much!) more.

Each chapter details all of the pertinent vocabulary you’ll need and we share our own stories of where we went wrong (so hopefully you won’t!). Being an expat means double the challenge but twice the reward, so we’re thrilled to share this book that Hayley and I would have loved to have nine years ago – we might have saved ourselves a lot of embarrassing mishaps! The book is easy to read and downloadable in PDF form, so you can take it on an e-reader, computer or tablet, and there’s the right amount of punch to keep you laughing about the crazy that is Spain.

download-now-2015

Downloading Moving to Spain is easy – the button above is linked to COMO’s online shop. Click, purchase thru PayPal, and you’re set! You will receive email notification of a successful purchase and a link to download the eBook. You can also click here.

Have you ever moved abroad before? What’s your biggest piece of advice?

Reflections in Valladolid (or, the Weird Sensation of Returning to Your Study Abroad City)

Alejandro didn’t even need to tell me where to turn. As soon as I’d passed the Valladolid city limits, I went into autopilot and followed the roads I used to walk as a study abroad student in the capital of Castilla y León. Easing into third, I made my way past the bullring and Campo Grande, along the Rosaleda and the Pisuerga river to Plaza San Pablo, smack in the middle of the historic city. Alejandro was shocked that, nearly a decade after I studied there, I knew Valladolid better than he did.

He also found it hilarious that I remembered my first glimpse of the former Spanish capital – a boy peeing on a tree. A sign of the things to come, I guess. We had a good laugh as I navigated the wide avenues of Pucela.

I parked off of Avenida de Palencia in a square I’d pass through on our my to the university every morning, handing him his bags and giving the standard dos besos as I wished him well. He suggested having a beer, and I was only a few blocks from my host family’s new apartment, but I needed some time to soak up the city where it all started.

the historic center of valladolid

I walked from Avenida de Palencia past the National Sculpture Museum at Plaza San Pablo. Stood next to La Antigua and  in the shadow of the cathedral as the sun inched high into the sky. I was hoping to have a glass of wine in a bar I’d once nipped into, but the blustery November day meant that most things were closed. It was like a metaphor for everything I’d heard about pucelanos before I lived there – closed off and shuttered.

My feet led me back towards Plaza Mayor and its stately buildings and beautiful town hall; my stomach led me to Los Zagales, where my ears were treated to castellano. Just as I was paying and putting on my jacket, a hail storm erupted and the bartender smiled as he gave me another dos dedos of wine. Closed off? Maybe, but stingy the locals are not.

The hail suddenly slowed and then stopped, and I whirled around looking for what I knew would come next: a rainbow, stretched just behind the statue of the sacred heart. 

Plaza Mayor of Valladolid

Aurora’s whatsapp came just as I walked in front of Sotobanco, our favorite bar. She asked how the driving had gone and if I’d like to meet her and her mother to pick up Lucía, Aurora’s eight-year-old daughter. Again, my feet traced the city streets, slick with rain.

Older Aurora grabbed my hand and led me towards Plaza de la Universidad, literally tracing back the steps we’d taken when she first picked me up from the bus when we were assigned host mothers on that day back in May 2005. Back then, she seemed aloof, soft-spoken and overly Catholic. In these nine years, she’s become more than the woman who washed my clothes and made me tortilla.

When we arrived at Plaza de la Universidad to meet Lucía’s school bus, I reminded old Aurora of when I’d been on the bus, the last student to be chosen by a host mother. Be it luck or destiny, she smiled and clasped my hand tightly. “Sí, Cati, lo recuerdo.” The rain began again, a site I’d not seen in Valladolid ever – not when I studied abroad, nor on my subsequent visits.

Reflections of Study Abroad in Spain

The following morning, Aurora and I took Lucía to a children’s workshop in the newly inaugurated Auditorio Miguel Delibes, near the Real Valladolid Stadium. Sitting high above the Parquesol subdivision and a hill that slopes down gently towards the river, I contemplated the cold, gray day, and the nine yeas that had passed since my first moments in Spain.

The city of Valladolid itself didn’t seem to have changed since 2005, save the weather. Back then, we’d spend our afternoons next to the manmade beach, eating ice cream and drinking beer on the argument that it was cheaper than water (viva España).

Now, as I buried my nose in my scarf, I had to breathe a sigh of relief that this place, so emblazoned in my heart and my head and my first digital camera’s memory card, has remained largely the same. The hue of Plaza Mayor was the same fiery red, the naked statue in front of the post office still made me giggle, and the dollar store where we’d meet every morning to walk to class together called Los Gatos was open, despite slowing business in La Rondilla.

ayuntamiento de Valladolid

Returning to Valladolid is always a strange swarm of memories – the euphoria of discovering a new culture and language coupled with the then-debilitating homesickness and language barriers, namely – but Younger Aurora wields a bottle of local wine and two glasses.

A tí, Cati,” she says, pouring me a hefty glass, “and to this Spanish American life you’ve created.” Little does she know just how important she was to making it so. I hand her a Save the Day card and her eyes glaze over, but we toast and gulp down the wine, catching up on the changes our lives have seen in these few years.

Did you study abroad? Have you been back to visit since? If so, what were your impressions?

Autonomous Community Spotlight: Castilla y León

 Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.  

Finally, after six months, we’ve hit my first taste of Spain – a taste that is as tender as a suckling roast pig, as fiery as a robust glass of red wine and something that, honestly, feel like home to me.

In May 2005, I studied abroad in Valladolid, the de facto capital of Castilla y León and one-time capital of Spain. It’s where Cervantes, Columbus and Torquemada once called home. It may not have the monuments, the vibrant culture ubiquitous to Spain, the soaring skyscrapers – but that’s what I liked about it. 

Andalusia means so much to me, but it all started in Old Castille. 

 Name: Castilla y León

Population: 2.5 million

Provinces: Nine: Ávila, Burgos, León, Palencia, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria, Valladolid, Zamora. 

When: May 2005, 1st of 17

About Castilla y León: Castilla y León is the largest of the 17 autonomous communities (close to one-fifth of its landmass!), and one of its most illustrious. It was here that marriages (and thus kingdoms) joined and saints roamed, where scholars changed the face of modern Castillian Spanish, and where cities practically shine gold.

Can you tell I’m a fan?

So, let’s start from the beginning.

Despite having been inhabited for a millennia, the modern-day Castille and León was born out of the marriage of two monarchs. The Leonese crown had long been stronger and held more land, though at the beginning of the second millennia, their power began to wane, losing the kingdoms of Galicia and Portugal, along with their prestige. 

In 1230, the kingdoms became one when Castillian King Ferdinand III ascended to the vacant Leonés crown. These two crowns would fight independently in the Reconquest, eventually defeating Muslim taifas, though not before the Catholic kings – among the best-known Spanish monarchs of all time – send Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. Castilla has long been known for its scholarly and democratic traditions, which include being the region responsible for spreading castellano Spanish, as well as the first place where a curia, or public forum to address issue affecting the pueblo, was held.

In fact, Valladolid was the capital of Spain for five years in the early 17th century.

Among illustrious castellanos are El Cid Campeador, Felipe II (my favorite Spanish king with his funny hat), Santa Teresa de Ávila, Miguel Delibes, San Juan de la Cruz, Adolfo Suárez, and even former prime minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Must-sees: Oh geez, where to start. I started, of course, in Valladolid, though there isn’t much to see in the capital city. There’s the national sculpture museum, a contemporary art center, a beautiful Plaza Mayor and a smattering of churches, though I spent most of my free time at the manmade beach on the Pisuerga River and at a bar called Sotobanco.

Skip Vdoid and head to the other treasures in the province, including nearby Peñafiel and its castle, which now hosts a wine museum. Castilla y León has a few protected wine regions, including Ribera del Duero and Toro – two of my personal favorites.

Castilla y León has six UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any other region in the world, and several are a quick day trip from Madrid: the old cities of Ávila, Salamanca and Segovia (plus its aqueduct), the Gothic cathedral of Burgos, the old Roman gold mines at Las Médulas (check out Trevor’s post and pictures) and the archaeological remains of Atapuerca, near Burgos. This, plus the numerous pilgrim routes that cut through CL and eventually lead to Santiago de Compostela.

Castles are a prominent feature in Castilla y León – like in Ireland, they’re practically everywhere and there are rumored to be around 300 of them. Check out the Templar castle in Ponferrada, Segovia’s fairytale-like Alcázar and Castillo de la Mota in Medina del Campo, which was a prominent fortress in the Battle of Castille. You’ll also only find Gaudí outside of Cataluña in León and Astorga, where a beautiful palace lies along the French Way of Saint James.

Food is also a huge reason why Castilla y León shines. Apart from wine, Castilla produces a number of specialty meats, including morcilla de arroz in Burgos and roast suckling pig, pungent cheeses and milk, and is the largest producer of grains in Iberia. Cracker giant Cuétara is based in Aguilar del Campoo (not a typo), near Galicia, and with reason – there is nothing but fields around! Be sure to check out León’s Barrio Húmedo for free tapas, as well – I once at a croqueta de pizza pepperoni! You can also pick up sweets in Ávila that throwback to the town’s famous saint, Santa Teresa the Mystic.

The cities themselves are lovely, from the golden hue of Salamanca, a city famous for its university and Lazarillo de Tormes, to León’s juxtaposition of Gaudí palaces and humble stone homes. Burgos’s old town shines and Ávila’s fortified stone walls are still intact.

My take: If you’re a history or language buff, you have to get to Castilla y León sí o sí. If you love wine and meat and cheese, head out there. If you love churches, castles, rivers, limestone villages… you get it. 

To me, Castilla y León is more Spain than Andalucía. Call me crazy, but it’s the Spain I fell in love with nearly a decade ago, and the Spain that beckoned me back. Andalucía is flamboyant where Castilla is demure, yet a bit coy. And the wine… 

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria

Have you been to Castilla y León? What were your impressions of it? Cue Kaley and Cassandra chiming in now...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...